Bringing the Joy Back Into Planning: How to make travel planning feel fun, exciting and enriching

If you’re anything like us, you’ll have had adventures, trips, and once in a lifetime experiences cancelled or put on hold because of the pandemic. Of course, this has been incredibly difficult for us personally due to the fact that this is what we do for a living, but aside from that, that sense of freedom and excitement we get from travel has been put on the back burner.

We think that collectively, we’re all dreaming about the day (and hopefully that’ll be sooner rather than later) that we can feel that freedom we get from exploring once again. When thinking about this in detail, and from a psychological perspective, it is pretty easy to see why this has gotten to us all. We’ve lost our reward culture, on multiple levels.

First off, you’ve possibly lost your reward (travel) for your general day to day life – you go to work everyday and work hard and want to reward yourself with experiences. Secondly, you’ve had the reward for the actual planning of trips (probably multiple at this point) removed from you for the time being. It makes you feel like there isn’t really much point in planning or getting enriched again by the things that excite and interest you.

It has been said numerous times throughout the pandemic in the travel industry that one of the most psychologically rewarding parts of travel is the anticipation of travel, and we couldn’t agree more.

When you perhaps think about how not travelling for a while has probably felt, one of the main things you might think about is how you haven’t actually been thinking about all of the exciting things you’re going to do.

Whilst the travel experience itself is incredibly important – it cannot be discounted that the anticipation and building of excitement about going and doing the thing you want to do out there is a massive part of the fun. The thing is, knockbacks aside, we really feel like this is a great opportunity to bring some of the fun back into planning trips and adventures.

For us personally, we actually found that planning adventures before to the pandemic were becoming quite an exercise in spreadsheets (not that there is anything wrong with spreadsheets – we find them incredibly helpful). Simply put, it felt like a really utilitarian experience.

Sometimes you feel like you’re having to force feed what you want to do. You maybe end up booking something that doesn’t feel quite the right fit because you aren’t sure what else to do or you’re short on time.

You perhaps find yourself hopping from place to place because it has a deal and why not. What you end up trading is this sense of intentionality. This sense of tailoring to your unique wants and needs. Something that fits far outside of bucket list tick offs and things you’ve seen other people do.

So, what if we can use this as an opportunity to plan in ways that might actually change how we experience the world, and how we interact with it? What if this can actually make us more switched on in terms of the whole notion of sustainable travel? What if, because we’ve planned something that feels really tailored and right for us, we come back feeling incredibly enriched and inspired?

What if the notion that making planning as much a part of the trip as the experience itself, it gives us the opportunity to think about how and where we create meaning and what that helps us to learn about ourselves?

It’s very easy for us to put out notions of how you can start to develop this ritualistic experience within your trip planning – but how do you actually do that and what are the things you need to consider in order to make planning your adventures around the world feel as unique as you?

Make dates with yourself (and your travel buddies) to plan

Like so many things we suggest through our work, it is about being intentional and in many ways, showing up. If we have lackluster travel experiences, pretty much 9 times out of 10 it is because the experience doesn’t live up to our expectations.

Of course, this can sometimes be because of things that don’t go to plan whilst we’re travelling – and many times these are things out of our control. However, we’ve often heard friends, family and others tell us that one of the main reasons they feel like that trip wasn’t the best was because they wished they’d known that going at that time of year wasn’t the best time to see x.

Or they wished they’d read up a little bit more about y before going. It can sometimes be really tough to find the time to sit down and work on planning your trip or an adventure you want to go on.

So do like you do when you’re planning a meet up with a friend – make a date in the diary. Chances are, if you set aside some time in the diary to plan, you’ll actually stick to it. Make it ritualistic – make it fun – make it into something you enjoy rather than a chore you have to do to tick off. If you’re planning to travel with others, why not make it a Zoom date, or in real life if possible, to start chatting things through.

ID: from left to right. 1: a landscape image. A flatly looking down at Matt reading a guide book on the Bernese Alps, Switzerland. Around him are maps, a drink and a cactus. The floor is dark brown wood and the drink is blue, white mug with black co…

ID: from left to right. 1: a landscape image. A flatly looking down at Matt reading a guide book on the Bernese Alps, Switzerland. Around him are maps, a drink and a cactus. The floor is dark brown wood and the drink is blue, white mug with black coffee, an orange candle, a wicker tray and a green cactus.

2: An image Fay & Matt took of the lake viewed in the book Matt is looking at in the previous image. In the foreground there is a pristine blue lake with brown sandy shore. In the background are alpine mountains in browns and greys covered with snow.

Give yourself more time than you have done previously

You might find you need multiple pockets of time to do this. Planning in this way certainly does take longer and leaves more time for you to get inspired and plan things in a way that feels right for you.

So, remember to give yourself ample time. Start well before the trip itself – in case you need to wait to hear back from people, book vaccinations or get any permits you need in advance. Leaving things to the last minute can sometimes be the only option – but it can also mean that you don’t always get to do the things you wanted to do.

If you find that there is a particular part of a trip you were really looking forward to but due to time restraints it isn’t possible, consider if you’re able to rejuggle when you go. With things like this, weighing up what is important and what is just a nice to have can really help to frame your travel experience.

Get inspired and acquainted

One of the hardest parts of planning a trip can be that you have this idea that you want to go somewhere, but you have absolutely no idea what it is you want to do. You might also have absolutely no idea where you want to go but feel really inspired to take a trip or feel called to go on an adventure and do something completely different to what you’ve done before.

You might also have been to somewhere before and want to go there again but do something more involved but not know where to start. The wonderful thing about planning in a slightly slower, more intuitive way is that you get the opportunity to get inspired. Are there books you can look at to give you some inspiration?

Films you can watch? Route books you can bring into your planning? (We loveCiceroneguides for this). If you’ve been there before but want to do something more involved, what photographs do you have that can help inspire you?

Are there any pieces of memorabilia you have that really make you feel a certain way (when we want to be inspired sometimes, we look at the little keepsakes we’ve brought back from places we’ve been to and how those evoke certain feelings for us).

Work on your feelings – does thinking about a particular thing feel good to you? Does the idea of this feel challenging to you? Usually, those feelings are a good place to start! When you start to build up an emotional connection to the things you want to do in your life before you’re even doing them, the experience when you do actually get to do them can be incredibly intense and rewarding.

One thing that really springs to mind for us is a particular project that we are planning in Death Valley National Park. We visited there a number of years ago on the way back to LA from a project in Nevada and we had a really short amount of time, so we just did the very touristy things.

That experience really stuck with us though and was the basis for us starting to plan a much bigger, more ambitious project that would allow us to go off grid in the backcountry for a number of days.

Because we started looking at structuring and planning, we were able to start breaking it down into ways that worked. So, take some time and get inspired by books, social media, photographs and see where your feelings take you. Make the not knowing and the working out phase as fun a part of the experience as the travel itself.

The image from Death Valley that inspired our further adventure planning. ID: A landscape image. In the foreground are rocks which are brown and sandy. In the background are desert mountains in reddy browns. The sky is blue with a few white clouds.

The image from Death Valley that inspired our further adventure planning. ID: A landscape image. In the foreground are rocks which are brown and sandy. In the background are desert mountains in reddy browns. The sky is blue with a few white clouds.

Memorabilia and the places they came from - these we use often around the house to make us feel connected to our travel experiences Top row from left to right: A Native American figurine picked up from The North Rim of the Grand Canyon., an image f…

Memorabilia and the places they came from – these we use often around the house to make us feel connected to our travel experiences Top row from left to right: A Native American figurine picked up from The North Rim of the Grand Canyon., an image from the same day of the Grand Canyon.

Second row from left to right: A scene from Nevada and a cowboy figurine picked up from the same area Third row from left to right: A piece of petrified wood bought at a souvenir shop in Utah, combined with one of our favourite images from just outside Zion National Park

Last row from left to right: A shot from the San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles and a piece of unusual crystal we picked up in Los Angeles shortly afterwards. Looking into timings and how this affects the place you want to go is going to be really important with this kind of planning too. If you need to work around holiday time from your day job, you may be limited in the time of year you can go.

If this is the case think carefully about your plans. For example, you might want to go to Austria in February to go hiking, but because of the amount of snow, you will need some fairly competent skills in winter trekking to be comfortable doing the kind of routes you might do in summer with much more ease. You may want to head to the desert in Nevada, but the only time you can go is in the summer when the heat will need to be a very real consideration.

Bring it into your now

Of course, right now, it may be a while before you can actually go and do what it is you want to do. Rather than letting this be something that really makes you feel down, try to explore ways you can make it feel like a piece of the experience you want to have is happening now.

Can you get creative and research the cuisine of the place you want to visit and learn to cook some dishes from that region now? Can you use this time to learn a little about the history of an area or the traditions so you can feel more connected when you’re there?

When we think about how much our travels have impacted the way we eat – it always feels really exciting to bring back dishes and add them into our rotation of meals, so we’ve started to bring that into the before too and it feels really enriching. What is to stop you from bringing that sense of culture into your life before as much as you do after a trip?

ID: A landscape image. Fay and Matt are cooking together in their kitchen. It is bright and airy and decorated in a modern way. Matt stands by the stove and is using a spoon in a pan whilst Fay brings toward him a tray of vegetables ready to be cook…

ID: A landscape image. Fay and Matt are cooking together in their kitchen. It is bright and airy and decorated in a modern way. Matt stands by the stove and is using a spoon in a pan whilst Fay brings toward him a tray of vegetables ready to be cooked. Around them are ingredients – which look to be Italian inspired.

Individualism

The great thing about planning in this way is it starts to give you a real sense of individualism. Of course, the online world is a great place to explore what it is you want to do, but it can also lead to you following an itinerary exactly and you can very quickly realise that this doesn’t have the same impact on you as it perhaps had on the person or website you got it from.

This is totally normal because as much as we are all individuals, we all want and need completely different things to enrich us and to make us feel a sense of connectedness. It can be really hard to move away from doing things in exactly the way others are doing them, because it is a safe bet.

Think about the blogs you read and the guides you find as a starting point. A springboard if you like. From our experience, some of the best adventures we’ve been on are ones that fall very far away from the usual tourist experience.

We know it can be really tempting to just want to tick off certain things and this really does come from a sense of FOMO – you almost get this feeling that if you don’t do that in some way you’ve failed.

Instead, get really clear with yourself on what you like and what you don’t. At the same time, leave yourself the opportunity to explore this whilst you’re travelling – sometimes we can only really find the things we want to do when we’re presented with the option (you don’t know what you don’t know).

Chances are, when you start looking at making your experiences really tailored to what you want and need, you’ll be planning things in ways you never have. Go with that – that’s where the good stuff and the interesting stories happen!

ID: A portrait image. Matt is crouched on the floor checking a green sleeping bag and prepping equipment. He is wearing a grey hoody. The floor is a black and white pattern, with plant in the background and some coats hung up behind. It is a light …

ID: A portrait image. Matt is crouched on the floor checking a green sleeping bag and prepping equipment. He is wearing a grey hoody. The floor is a black and white pattern, with plant in the background and some coats hung up behind. It is a light and bright airy space.

Itinerary Planning 2.0

Following on from the last point about individualism when it comes to what you want to do – this is a great opportunity to flow this into your itinerary planning too. Planning your itinerary can be utterly daunting and our biggest tip here is to create a plan but also be flexible. Struggling to know where to start – start with the key things and then build around it.

One of the things we found a lot when we first started travelling full time was that we planned a lot of things out and then we’d get to a place, talk to a local and all of a sudden we had all these other things we wanted to do.

If you’re going with a guide or are going on a specific trek, then this probably won’t be as useful for you, but sometimes that whole having a plan but leaving room to be spontaneous is the best way to go. If you’re working around what feelings you want to experience, chances are you’ll be less likely to be rigid.

For example, if it’s a sense of freedom you’re after – what could be more freeing that taking things as they come? However, sometimes our trips need to work within a remit and sometimes we need to follow plans more rigidly depending on what we’re doing. Evaluate the need for rigidity within in plan based on what you’re doing.

If we’re heading off on a multi-day overlanding expedition in the desert, we’ll plan meticulously. When planning, we’ll need to look at how many days a tank of fuel can carry before we need to top up somewhere.

We’ll need to look at how many days this may take and how much food we need to bring. Whereas if we have two weeks in one location where our base is a little more fixed, we can afford the ability to be flexible.

Get prepared

If you’re prepared for your experience with confidence and any skills you might need, you are going to have a much more enjoyable time, not to mention safer. It’s important to think about what it is you are going to be doing.

If you’re planning a mountain adventure in the summer months over a period of days, it’s worth looking at what is involved in the route. Is there scrambling? Do you need to carry a heavy pack, and do you have the confidence in the areas that you’ll be relying on? Are you planning a winter hiking adventure? Do you know how to snowshoe,assess snow packs and stop your own fall?

If you’re planning to explore by car – do you feel comfortable driving at your location? If you’re planning to overland, do you have any experience with this and are there any learning days you can go on before? Do you need vaccinations or permits? Are there any specific new things you need to buy for this (tent/clothes/shoes etc.)? Do you need to check things you already own are still OK for what you want to do?

Any travel experience like this will push you out of your comfort zone, but preparation is key to you enjoying it, succeeding, and being safe. If there are some skills you will need for your adventure, it’s worth thinking how you could start learning those skills closer to home in the time before you leave.

Adventures are great like this because they can quite often lead you on other adventures. Sometimes, the training can actually be one of the most important parts of going on an adventure.

For us, our training can almost work backwards – we look at what Z is (the goal) and work backwards so we can start from A. Generally, the journey to that goal is a real part of the experience (and can often take you to some pretty incredible places).

ID: Left to right. 1: A landscape image. Matt is lifting weights. He wears shorts and a green top and is indoors in what looks to be a fitness room. 2: Fay is outside in the hills prepping by hiking. Fay looks happy and is looking to camera right an…

ID: Left to right. 1: A landscape image. Matt is lifting weights. He wears shorts and a green top and is indoors in what looks to be a fitness room.

2: Fay is outside in the hills prepping by hiking. Fay looks happy and is looking to camera right and smiling. Fay wears black sunglasses and a blue top. The sun is setting in the background and the light is casting a golden glow over the hilly landscape,.

Bringing the joy back into planning can be one of the most enriching parts of travel you can experience. It can help you to feel incredibly connected and create a sense of meaning and intentionality that you might not have experienced before.

Because of that emotional connectivity, it makes travel feel like it is a part of your life long before and long after the experience itself – and there is something pretty unique, soulful and utterly enriching about that!